For most of Sunday evening, this was looking like a post about how I’m selling “Eagles 2016 NFC East Champion” snuggies out of the back of my car. Instead, it’s a psychological thesis on why, despite how grey and gut-wrenching Monday morning felt, this week actually presented a few kernels of optimism for Iggles fans.
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While the Eagles choked away a very winnable upset Sunday night, it’s important to remember the NFC East isn’t clinched on Halloween (the 2004 Iggles notwithstanding). There’s still a lot of football to be played, and actually a few positives to be taken from this weekend -- despite that feeling that your guts have been laid out on asphalt and raked over by a dry squeegee.
Here’s a look at what happened this week in the NFC East:
New York Giants
What Happened: The New York Giants were on a bye this week, their reward for being shipped off to Europe the previous Sunday. DID YOU KNOW: Netflix will let you stream the latest season of ‘Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ if you’re in the UK, but it won’t be available here for two more months!? England now has Always Sunny AND American Football! DID THE MINUTEMEN DIE IN VAIN?!
In other news, the Giants cut domestic abusing kicker Josh Brown about two months later than appropriate, proving, as Andrew Brandt pointed out, the league has learned nothing from its self-created Ray Rice debacle. Seriously, there are fetuses with a faster ability to learn from its own mistakes.
What It Means: At 4-3, the Giants are sitting identical to the Birds; good-not-great. Like a fast-food cheeseburger for your hunger, it’ll get the job done, but there’s definitely some visible flaws, and those flaws may come back to hurt you relatively quickly (and uncomfortably).
The difference between the Iggles and the GMen is, Philly is playing with house-money, while New York is in Win-Now Mode. Eli Manning is 35 years old, or one-year-older than Donovan McNabb was when he retired. The team spent $200 million on defensive upgrades this offseason, very little of which is showing any ROI. Giants GM Jerry Reese would have been better off investing in the Samsung Galaxy Note.
Will that make fans feel better if the Birds lose a divisional-title to Dallas by a tie-break this season? Probably not, no. But let the team that plays its home games in North Jersey stand as a reminder that not all 4-3 teams are created equal, and the future remains bright in Wentzylvania.
What’s Next: For the third week in a row, a team fresh off a bye gets the Philadelphia Eagles. In both matches, the Birds have played well enough to win -- so chalk that up however you’d like. If Doug Pederson’s squad can’t get out of The New Meadowlands with a victory, not only will they be in last place in the NFC East, they’ll be a disturbing 0-3 in the division. The Eagles need to start winning games again their rival, and fast.
What Happened: THEY TIED!!! Sorry, I jumped to the punchline here, but it’s just too hilarious. Is there anything more unsatisfying in the history of the NFL? Ties should be abolished, like wearing tall hats to a movie theater or Joel Embiid’s minutes restriction.
Jokes aside, this was actually a pretty entertaining game, just with a useless ending. Like “How I Met Your Mother” or what’s about to happen to the Chicago Cubs.
Kirk Cousins looked like the better version of himself we’ve been getting to know, throwing a career-high 438 yards (with one not-his-fault-interception) and making him THE GREATEST QB IN WASHINGTON HISTORY. Alas, he’s still completely incapable of getting the ball downfield to DeSean Jackson (who was hurt on his one “big” play of the day) and couldn’t even get the final Hail Mary within 20 yards of the endzone. Still, FRANCHISE QB!
The offense isn’t lacking for weapons, however: Jordan Reed returned from his 11th concussion with nine catches on the day, matching Jamison Crowder who added nine of his own.
BTW, if Pederson could figure out a way to use Zach Ertz and Josh Huff the same way Jay Gruden uses Reed and Crowder, the Delaware Valley wouldn’t be calling for Howie Roseman to trade the farm for Alshon Jeffrey (Please note: I’ve replaced Nelson Agholor here with Huff; just as Nellie doesn’t want to hear about his drops, I no longer want to hear about him).
Meanwhile, Big Free Agent Acquisition Josh Norman had a TON of penalties, by the way, which he blamed on the referee. That’s fair, I suppose, in that the referee by definition did throw the penalty flag each time Norman committed a foul, but we’re really getting into a debate on cause-and-effect here, and I really couldn’t be bothered.
If the NFL was looking for ways to get the local fan base enthralled, the FIRST OVERTIME GAME IN LONDON probably wasn’t it. Like having the lemon artificially inserted into your soda. That’s disgusting.
What It Means: Can you imagine some poor Washington fan, who’s been subjected to this disgusting franchise for the past twenty years, decided to hop on a seven-hour flight to go watch their team battle, and ended up having to settle for a draw? That’s the biggest waste of time since people stood in line to watch “Suicide Squad.” (Just use Fandango, yo. It’s 2016)
On a serious note, let’s use this Washing tie vs. the Marvin Lewis Bengals to remember a time, back in 2008, when our beloved Eagles similarly tied a Marvin Lewis led Bengals squad. Yes, the infamous Mcnabb-didn’t-know-games-could-end-in-a-tie game. THAT tie, a 13-13 waste of a sunny Sunday afternoon, dropped the Iggles to 5-4-1 on the year and LAST place in the NFC East.
The point I’m trying to make (besides the fact that Marvin Lewis has been coaching the Bengals for FAR too long) is that a LOT can change between now and the end of the year. We’re not even halfway through the season! And while the postseason looks like a difficult road at the moment, there’s no reason to already start counting the days towards pitchers-and-catchers.
What’s Next: A home game against the suddenly-reeling Vikings, followed by Green Bay and then a rematch with Dallas. It’s plausible Washington drops below .500 before meeting with the Cowboys, which is a nice pleasant thought to keep in mind, since the next section is gonna feel like salt on a paper cut….
What Happened: So, one of the following two things happened. One, the Cowboys benefitted from a total collapse by the Eagles; bad play calling, a brutal fumble by a rookie running back, a tired defense that couldn’t keep up with an O-line coming off a bye week, the butterfly effect taking hold based off of fans throwing objects on the field in Buffalo, etc. In short, the Cowboys got lucky ‘cause the Eagles lost the game.
Or two, despite facing the toughest defense he’s ever had to, playing from behind, and looking out-of-sorts for most of the evening, future Hall-of-Famer Dak Prescott PERSEVERED for an incredible fourth-quarter comeback victory that is just the start of his illustrious and star-studded career. In short, the Cowboys won because they are ELITE.
Not that the narrative matters; the Cowboys won, and with Minnesota losing to Chicago last night, they now have undisputed claim to the “Best Team in the NFC” title. The only positive way to spin that is to remind everyone that they don’t give out rings for that sorta thing in Week 8.
Dez Bryant returned, and was surprisingly mild-mannered. His presence took away touches for Cole Beasley, and it can be argued that balance might hurt the Cowboys going forward. That’s if you’re looking to nit-pick, which I am.
In unrelated news, Ezekiel Elliot is still being investigated by the NFL for alleged domestic abuse, and may face a lengthy ban. Because winning above all else.
What It Means: Dallas now has a two game lead on the rest of the division. In no ways is that a good thing. They also, in case you didn’t hear, have an heir apparent to Tony Romo, and the best running back in Big D since Emmitt was spurned to Arizona. That reality, on display for Eagles fans Sunday night, is as much fun as eating grapes with seeds in them. Nobody wants that.
But on the brightside --- the Birds just laid out the blueprint for how to beat this Cowboys squad.
Sure, it’s easier said than done, but the mission is clear. Pressure the QB with a Jim Johnson level of disguised blitzes. Get a lead, removing the serious threat of the running game. And whatever you do, don’t make stupid mistakes.
Sure, that’s about as comforting as hearing the sushi restaurant is refunding you after giving you food poisoning. But like Ivan Drago, this Dallas crew is not a machine. They’re beatable. Shoot, with four minutes remaining Sunday night, they were being beaten! And while Brian Dawkins use to say there’s no good losses in the NFL, there’s still better ways to pick yourself up than downing six cinnabons and a liter of bourbon.
What’s Next: A tour of the AFC North; at Cleveland, at Pittsburgh, and home against the Ravens. With Big Ben likely missing that game vs. Dallas, look for the Cowboys to be favored for all three.